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State of the Rockets: Danuel House's peculiar play, Russell Westb​rook's efficiency, James Harden's defense and more

Rockets' advanced stats (per cleaningtheglass.com):

As of last week:

Offensive RTG: 113.8 (3rd)

Defensive RTG: 108.7 (15th)

Net RTG: +5.1 (6th)

As of this week:

Offensive RTG: 113.3 (4th)

Defensive RTG: 109.4 (15th)

Net RTG: +3.9 (9th)

Biggest developments:

1. Rockets lose three games in a row

It may seem too obvious to put this here, but it's certainly the biggest development of the week. The Rockets are in a rough spot, and that's something you'll hear from the players and coaches. Games have been lost, team meetings have been had, and things haven't turned around quite yet. It's possible that this is just a tough spot and it'll eventually turn around for Houston (P.J. Tucker certainly thinks so), but an outside observer will tell you this looks like a spiraling basketball team and it would be totally inbounds to have that opinion.

Over the past three games, the Rockets have a -11.5 point differential per 100 possessions (24th in the league in that span). Houston's loss Saturday night was particularly bad because not only were the Lakers without Anthony Davis, but going into it, the team had already lost three out of their previous four games. It was a must-win in every sense of the phrase.

2. Austin Rivers sprains right thumb

The extent of the damage to River's right thumb is still unknown, but considering the rail-thin nature of this roster, this is a big deal. Mike D'Antoni said that Rivers suffered this injury against Memphis and talked about possible ligament damage. With Rivers out, the Rockets only have Eric Gordon as a good option to defend ball handlers.

3. Danuel House continues his slump

This storyline is completely bizarre. How does one go from a pretty good starter to a below average NBA rotation player? House had become a reliable shooter and somewhat capable defender for houston until the calendar flipped. Ever since December 29th (22 points against New Orleans), House has only had one double-digit game in which he scored 10 points on 3 of 9 shooting from the field. While it's true that Ben McLemore has House in the rotation, House has proven in the past that he can perform well off the bench. Until there is word about a possible injury, we must assume that his is just a very bad slump for House.

4. Isaiah Hartenstein falls out of the rotation

Up until this week, it looked like Isaiah Hartenstein was finally going to get a fair crack at the backup center spot. Everything seemed to crescendo on January 11th against the Timberwolves where Hartenstein had an impressive stat-line of 17 points, 15 rebounds, 5 blocks, 2 steals, and 1 assist on 8 of 9 shooting from the field. Ever since that night, he's played a grand total of five minutes. It's hard to justify this considering it really looked like Hartenstein had proved his worth as a solid backup option to Clint Capela, but Mike D'Antoni's instinct has been to go small with P.J. Tucker at backup center or even give Tyson Chandler minutes in the case of the Lakers game.

You give a hall of famer like Mike D'Antoni the benefit of the doubt of 99.9% of things relating to the roster he's coaching, but it's only natural to question his judgement when it relates to Hartenstein.

Week of games in review:

When you lose three games in a row, there's really not much to say other than "the team has been bad". The fact that two of these losses have come against below .500 teams is truly what makes it worse.

Questions for the coming week:

1. Has Russell Westbrook turned a corner on his efficiency?

Lost in the shuffle of how bad the Rockets have been is how well Russell Westbrook has been playing as of late. Over his last four games, Westbrook has logged at least 30 points and 5 assists on at least 54.7% true shooting. Westbrook's regular season efficiency numbers have ticked up a little from below 50% true shooting to 51.4% at the moment. For his career, Westbrook is shooting 52.8% true shooting and it'll be interesting if he can get back to that mark.

All season, Westbrook's production and efficiency has been been compared to that of Chris Paul's. And while that is perfectly logical and fair to do considering this was a straight one for one player swap with picks attached to Paul, that isn't the central question for Houston this season. The relevant question isn't "Is Chris Paul playing better than Russell Westbrook in 2019-20?", it's "Is Russell Westbrook good enough to be the second best player on a title contender in 2019-20?" All the other stuff are just macro-evaluations of the trade and evaluating Houston's future prospects. That stuff is important, but it's not the most important for the Rockets this season.

It'll be interesting if Westbrook's percentages drop, stabilize, or even rise up from these current percentages.

2. Will James Harden start caring about his effort on defense again?

It seems fans have shifted all their ire towards head coach Mike D'Antoni for not playing Isaiah Hartenstein enough or forcing Houston's hand with forward Gary Clark's waiver. However, someone who has not received enough blame from fans for his effort or lack thereof is James Harden. Harden's effort on both ends of the floor fell off of a plateau this week. In the game against Portland, Harden attempted less field goals than four other Rockets players. It completely flew under the radar how nonchalant Harden was in that game. Granted, he was being trapped for some of it, but Harden was also passive when he did get single coverage opportunities and chose not to take advantage of them.

Before the past two weeks, Harden's defense was actually fairly commendable for the Rockets. It looked like the game against Miami unlocked something in him that forced him to care on all possessions defensively. These past two weeks, however, Harden's been a statue who swipes at the ball when somebody attacks him off the dribble. C.J. McCollum completely torched him off the dribble and Lakers players did the same the next night on back cuts. Harden resorted to poking at the ball when players drove past him and it hurt the Rockets as bad as anything. On the season, the Rockets are 6.0 points per 100 possessions worse when Harden is on the floor (second to Westbrook's -6.8 points per 100 possessions).

If the Rockets continue to start Ben McLemore alongside Harden and Westbrook, at least one of those two has to become above average defensively for Houston to crack the top ten defenses in the NBA.

3. Is P.J. Tucker's shoulder going to be okay?

P.J. Tucker suffered a right shoulder stinger against the Minnesota Timberwolves on January 11th after receiving a pretty hard screen from Gorgui Dieng and seemed to re-aggravate it after another hard screen, this time from veteran center Dwight Howard. Tucker has not shot the three-ball well since December 21st and an injury to his shooting shoulder can't help his prospects of getting back on track.

4. Can the Rockets win their next two home games?

If the Lakers game was a 'must-win', the next two home games against the Thunder and Nuggets are what you may call a 'super-must-win' game. If you lose both of these games, it's possible the bottom falls out from underneath and the team never recovers.

"It does put a premium on these next two games," agreed Mike D'Antoni at Sunday's practice. "But it [also] puts a premium on 'Lets get it right'. The results will take care of themselves."

The Rockets insist that internally they are calm and know how to come out of this rut because of the experience on the roster.

"We know what we need to do," said Eric Gordon. "We're an older, veteran team - we know exactly what's going, what's happening. Like I said before, it's the consistency from quarter to quarter in games."

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Jovan Abernathy is an international marathoner and blogger. Check out her new blog, HTown Run Tourist. Follow her on Twitter @jovanabernathy. Instagram @HTownRunTourist. Facebook @jovanabernathy. Join her facebook group: H-Town Run Tourist

Six years ago, I got this great idea to become a tourist of Houston on foot. I had no idea what I was doing or where it was going. All I knew was to put on my running shoes, walk out the door, and just go. Go learn, go talk, go ask without judgements. What I found is that Houston was full of diversity. We all knew that. However, let yourself be immersed in it. Look and listen to the sounds of different languages being spoken around you. Smell the scents of the different cuisines. You would think you were in a foreign country. This made me more curious.

As I explored the emotion of curiosity, it led me to change my behavior. Where I might have rushed to this place and to the next, I took it slower. Where, usually, I would have just assumed that I already knew, I found myself asking more questions. When I asked more questions, I had to acknowledge that I did not already know, so I practiced listening. As I listened more, I felt compelled to show more appreciation to the person who interrupted their busy day to educate me. This made me feel grateful.

I took that gratitude and wanted to share with others. It blew my mind when people would say that they hated Houston. It was boring. The people are mean and it was ugly. And even more shocking was Houston is not walkable. Instead of getting offended, I decided to do my part in brightening up the day of the Houstonians who were stuck in a rut. Who saw and did the same things day after day. I didn't judge because I knew they could get out of that rut by simply deciding that today they do something different. I braced myself for rejection, but put myself out there to share the wonderful things that I had learned about Houston. Given the chance, the vast majority, was ready to learn a different way. This made me proud.

It is true that 2020 has been full of disasters. These are opportunities if we choose to see them that way. If anything that COVID-19 taught me the answer was not MORE, but it is LESS. We have the tendency to take on too much, we had the unique opportunity to take on less. Thus, instead of going to exhaustion, we had the opportunity to rest.

Then, the tragedy of the death of Houston's own George Floyd happened. It could not have happened at a worse time. My heart goes out to his family. Some might use it as an opportunity to work out their own frustrations by causing more problems with violence and looting. My hope is that whatever happens will be an expression of appropriate sadness, but with Houston's best attributes; curiosity, gratitude, and pride. Instead of LESS it is time for MORE. MORE curiosity. To see if Houston's law enforcement cares about the well-being of Houston's black community and make changes in protocols. MORE gratitude. For the opportunity to express the frustration in a peaceful way. MORE pride. To not destroy this city and give it over to violence possibly doing more damage to the economics of business owners. We can see this as the opportunity to take time to heal.

Houston has changed. As I restart my exploration, I'm not looking for LESS. I'm looking for MORE this time. I'm looking with MORE curiosity. Because I know that we have even MORE to show each other. I'm looking with MORE gratitude because we have endured so much already and there are better times ahead. And, I'm looking with MORE pride because just as we did it before, we still have it in us to do it again. I have one request: if you see me in the streets, promise me that you will say hello.

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